My top 5 city changing projects

Laurence DragomirJuly 26, 20170 min read

The amount of construction in Melbourne's central city is reaching fever pitch with a number of large scale towers either topping out or rising out of the ground, forever changing the face of the city. But that's not what today's article is about. Instead I'd like to focus on five city changing projects which direct the eye to the street rather than the sky.

1. Melbourne Metro Rail Project

My top 5 city changing projects
CBD North Station Franklin Street entry. Image: MMRA

I may be slightly biased with this one having been involved with the Reference Design throughout 2015 but no project will have as great an impact on Melbourne as the Melbourne Metro Rail Project (MMRP).

Over the course of the next eight years as tunnel boring machines carve their way through the heart of the city creating five new underground stations linked by twin nine kilometre tunnels, a number of changes will also be noticed at the surface as road space is taken over for station entries and widened footpaths to accommodate surging passenger and pedestrian numbers in key areas of the city.

The concept designs produced by Hassell in association with Weston Williamson as part of the winning Cross Yarra Partnership are largely in keeping with the framework developed as part of the reference design by the mighty MMRP design team.

Without going into too much detail lest I get myself in hot water for disclosing more than what I am allowed to, as the concept images suggest the station entries will be integrated into the fabric of the city adding to its rich tapestry of public spaces and network of laneways.

Eight years may seem like a long wait but the $11 billion investment will definitely be worth the inconvenience of construction in the heart of the city.

More information:

2. Queen Victoria Market Renewal Project

My top 5 city changing projects
Concept image for Munro site as part of the QVMRP. Image: City of Melbourne

Yes, there is a 125 metre tower on the former Munro site, but this project is more than a tower or the transformation of the market's operations but rather the creation of key public spaces in the northern quadrant of the city, serviced by community facilities.

Occupying space previously reserved for vehicular movements and parking, the creation of key public spaces in the new 'Market Square' and 'Market Cross' will firmly reinforce the market as an environment for people, not cars and forklifts.

The City of Melbourne has long spoken about a public space at the market as a 'Fed Square of the north' but rather than thinking of it in terms of built form or architecture this is meant as a comparison of what Federation Square provides in the way of quality multi-functional open space which can host a range of events of various size throughout the year.

For a complete rundown, read The Queen Victoria Market renewal project: a refresher (

3. Southbank Boulevard

My top 5 city changing projects
Southbank Boulevard renewal. Image: City of Melbourne

Covered on last week, the Southbank Boulevard and Dodds Street concept plan sees ancillary road space in the heart of Southbank transformed into new open space to help service Southbank's growing residential population.

With Council voting to adopt the concept plan, its full steam ahead on the first of many projects which will see the replacement of bitumen with grass and trees providing 2.5 hectares of usable open space in Melbourne's most densely populated suburb. What was once a traffic sewer will by 2020 become Southbank's new green spine.

To find out more, visit Southbank Boulevard and Dodds Street Draft Concept Plan (Participate Melbourne).

4. Elizabeth Street South

My top 5 city changing projects
Elizabeth Street South concept image. Image: City of Melbourne

The southern end of Elizabeth Street will be transformed via a $1.5 million makeover, with plans to close the southbound lane between Flinders Lane and Flinders Street to make this major entrance to the station more pedestrian friendly, with new paving, street trees and improved drainage.

Despite being one of the most important entry points into the city, this section of Elizabeth Street is characterised by poor urban design, an absence of trees, soft and hard landscape and constrained footpaths which results in a compromised pedestrian experience. Additionally, the current state of the tram turnaround area and shelters detracts from the visual and historical significance of Flinders Street Station.

Construction is expected to begin later this year following the release of a detailed concept plan in coming weeks. The City of Melbourne is also considering eventually extending the pedestrianised areas up to Bourke Street in future.

To find out more about the Elizabeth Street South Project, visit Elizabeth Street South (Participate Melbourne).

I believe another candidate for a similar transformation into a more welcoming pedestrian environment would be Spencer Street directly opposite Southern Cross Station between Collins and Bourke Streets. These corners are already swelling during peak hours and during event mode, with pedestrians waiting at the respective intersections to cross to or from the station - a potentially hazardous scenario.

This would then allow the tram super stop to be reconfigured for direct interchange between the station and the trams removing the pedestrian conflict with vehicles and allowing for a more permeable interface between the now 10-year-old station and an improved 'front door' allowing retail to spill out onto Spencer Street.

Fewer bollards would also be required (sorry boll-artists) and these could then form part of an overall urban design and landscaping strategy for the area.

With a bit more interrogation this may eventually become the subject of its own article on

5. Harbour Esplanade Redevelopment

My top 5 city changing projects
Concept sketch for Harbour Esplanade. Image: City of Melbourne

While construction progresses all over the Docklands Precinct one key project has consistently lagged behind the rest - the Harbour Esplanade Redevelopment.

Long mooted for the past decade, only the first stage of what was a BKK Architects produced scheme was realised. This involved the reconfiguration of the road reserve and relocation of the tram tracks to a more central location releasing land along the water's edge for a grand public space.

Additionally, the Canary Island palms planted as part of ARM's initial take on Harbour Esplanade were replaced with Norfolk Pines which are more suited to a waterside environment.

Since then a subsequent master plan was produced by Hassell following further rounds of community engagement. While not proposing anything concrete, the master plan rather takes a space proofing approach identifying areas suitable for particular activities or built form.

To allow this master plan to progress (albeit very slowly) a number of wharves were demolished by Places Victoria in order to create a seamless transition from the existing footpath to the reinstated but lowered wharves. A this stage no definitive date has been nominated for completion of these works or the further progression of the Harbour Esplanade Master Plan.

I consider Harbour Esplanade to be Docklands' most important project and as such should be adequately funded with Development Victoria and the City of Melbourne working together to deliver the best outcome for Melbourne.

Talk of reinstating sheds seems counter intuitive considering they were initially demolished to open Harbour Esplanade to the water although built form wind breaks of some form may be required or the sheds' exposed structures reinstated as a 'memory' of what once was while still allowing for a degree of visual and physical permeability to the water.

One of Harbour Esplanade's most critical roles is not only linking a number of disparate precincts together while also providing quality, usable open space which celebrates Docklands waterfront location. I would suggest that whatever the final outcome the master plan needs to also consider Harbour Esplanade's relationship to Central Pier creating a unified vision for the waterfront.

Places Victoria’s ambition for Harbour Esplanade is for it to be a place of increased national significance and one of the great post-industrial waterfronts anywhere in the world.

Harbour Esplanade should be the primary public space in Docklands – a fine boulevard for promenading, providing an opportunity to experience elements of Melbourne’s rich industrial ports heritage and a place to welcome and guide the public through the sub-precincts of Melbourne’s Docklands and central city.

Places Victoria

For further information, read: Places Victoria submits Harbour Esplanade Masterplan (

Do you agree with the list? What do you believe the top five projects for Melbourne are? Leave your comments below.

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.
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